10 Documentaries That Explore the Evolution of Electronic Music and Culture

In this roundup of music documentaries, we feature ten films that explore the evolution of electronic music culture, advancements in music technology, and the many music styles that have inspired people for decades.

Electronic Music

Pump Up The Volume | The History of House Music

Pump Up The Volume is a British TV series from 2001 that focuses on the inception and development of house music. While the film was rarely seen in the states during that time, a flood of Youtube uploads and a grass-roots movement have pulled the series back into public consciousness. The reason for the excitement around this series is the in-depth look at what was happening during the 1970s and 80s in New York, Chicago, and England. Interviews with legends such as Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, and Marshall Jefferson are inter-cut with bits from dancers and enthusiasts who were present at the dawn this movement. If you’re a fan of modern day house music, this documentary is a must watch for education.

High Tech Soul | The Creation of Techno Music

High Tech Soul is the first documentary to tackle the deep roots of techno music alongside the cultural history of Detroit, its birthplace. From the race riots of 1967 to the underground party scene of the late 1980s, Detroit’s economic downturn didn’t stop the invention of a new kind of music that brought international attention to its producers and their hometown. Featuring in-depth interviews with many of the world’s best exponents of the artform, High Tech Soul focuses on the creators of the genre – Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson while looking at the relationships and personal struggles behind the music. Artists like Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Eddie Fowlkes and a host of others explain why techno, with its abrasive tones and resonating basslines, could not have come from anywhere but Detroit.

Moog

Robert Moog shaped musical culture with some of the most inspiring electronic instruments ever created. This compelling documentary takes us inside the mind of this legendary figure as he shares his ideas about creativity, design, interactivity, and spirituality. The film features interviews and performances by Stereolab, Keith Emerson, Walter Sear, Gershon Kingsley, Jean-Jacques Perrey & Luke Vibert, Rick Wakeman, DJ Spooky, Herb Deutsch, Bernie Worrell, Pamelia Kurstin, Tino Corp., Charlie Clouser, Money Mark, Mix Master Mike, and others.

Copyright Criminals

The advent of the sampler has probably had more impact on modern music than just about any other instrument. The sampler has also been the subject of scrutiny from many professional artists who claim their work is being stolen while this revolution of cut-and-paste methodology takes over modern music creation. Copyright Criminals takes a long look at both sides of the argument with discussions on the legal and illegal sides of sampling and interviews with many artists who use this method. Notable moments come from James Brown’s drummer Clyde Stubblefield (the original funky drummer), Public Enemy, Q-Bert, Coldcut, El-P, Sage Francis, and Miho Hatori. In the center of this film are numerous lawsuits that only seem to come when an artist breaks from the underground into the commercial realm and a discussion of whether these laws are appropriate in modern society.

Scratch

Scratch is the definitive documentary on turntablism, scratching, and the advent of DJ battles. Also a great documentary to show friends or parents who “just don’t understand this DJing thing.” The film offers interviews with just about everyone in the game in 2001, with notable moments from Dj Shadow, Q Bert, Klever, Cut Chemist and Z-Trip. The film offers a proper history of scratching, from Kool Herc to Roc Raida with crews from all coasts stopping in to drop wisdom.The DJ Shadow segments in particular get deep into the philosophy of recording, sampling and DJ culture as he explains a basement of records as “a big pile of broken dreams.” Highly recommended.

Bassweight

Bassweight is a documentary that offers an unparalleled insight into the subterranean world of Dubstep. Charting the genre’s growth from its obscure origins in South London to global recognition today, the film features in-depth interviews with many DJs, producers, and promoters who have been instrumental in Dubstep’s ongoing evolution including Skream, Benga, Kode9, Mary Anne Hobbs, and others. This highly stylized film travels from Dubstep’s birthplace in Croydon to Europe, Brazil, and Japan, demonstrating just how huge an impact this initially indigenous scene has made at an international level.

Better Living Through Circuitry

Better Living Through Circuitry is a documentary that takes us through the electronic dance music cultural scene of the 90′s. Both the film and soundtrack capture the people and the music that shaped the underground rave culture and uncovers the empowerment through advances in musical electronics technology, the DIY ethic, and the flowering of a new spirituality embracing transcendence through sound and rhythm. Ravers, DJs, and musicians speak for themselves about their music and ideals. Featured soundtrack artists include Moby, Keoki, The Crystal Method, DJ Spooky, Roni Size, Psychic TV, and a host of others.

Dub Echoes

Dub Echoes is a film that takes us through the evolution of dub music. Through interviews with over 40 key names in the history of dub, electronic music, and hip-hop, this documentary shows how the Jamaican invention called dub ended up influencing much of the music we hear today. Although the film can be somewhat meandering at times, the intimate conversations with artists such as Lee Perry, Sly and Robbie, Mad Professor, Thievery Corporation, Basement Jaxx, Bunny Lee, King Tubby, Beat Junkies, Kode9, Roots Manuva, and may others make the journey well worth taking.

Modulations | Cinema for the Ear

Modulations is a multi-media exploration into the evolution of electronic music in the 90′s and its many genres consisting of a documentary film, its soundtrack album, and a book. Get a glimpse of the rise of rave culture and the underground era. The film features interviews with legendary producers and music industry pioneers such as Robert Moog, DJ Funk, Frankie Knuckles, Carl Cox, Derrick May, Giorgio Moroder, Teo Macero, and many others.

Synth Britannia

Synth Britannia follows a post-punk revolution of sound that came out of Germany in 1970′s as Kraftwerk inspired bands worldwide to ditch their guitars and buy synthesizers. This movement had a massive impact on artists in and around England. The film highlights legendary bands such as Depeche Mode, OMD, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Soft Cell, and Gary Numan who all played a role in carrying this inspiration into the 80′s influencing modern pop and dance music. This fantastic documentary from the UK’s BBC4 combines interviews with these artists along with rare footage from the 70′s, and 80′s to create an endearing look at the inception of electronic music in Britain.

 


EDU Summer Sessions

Music Foundations Program

Unravel electronic music’s origins, build your chops, learn musical language and theory, and make and play music the way you want. Students will develop a deeper understanding of the roots and lineage of a variety of electronic and dance music genres, strengthen their keyboard skills, and learn valuable music theory, deepening their creative practice and facilitating effective collaborations with musical partners.

About This Program

The best producers, DJs, and musicians in the world strive to be well-rounded. So should you. In Dubspot’s Music Foundations Program, you’ll explore three major aspects of music: rhythmic theory, melodic theory, and critical listening.

Most pioneering early electronic musicians had years of conservatory training in theory and performance but had access to very limited technologies. In today’s musical world, it’s the opposite: we have a powerful and versatile array of electronic music making tools at our fingertips, but often fall short in our theoretical understanding of how electronic music works.

Our Music Foundations program is designed to fill this gap and provide training in fundamental skills and concepts with the electronic musician, DJ, and producer in mind. In this course, you’ll build your chops and learn the basics of musical language and theory so that you can make and play the music you want. You will also develop a deeper understanding of the roots and lineage of a variety of electronic and dance music genres, and explore compositional techniques and song structure. The weekly homework lessons for all three courses have been designed using Ableton Live, and along the way you’ll also learn the basics of Ableton and how to use it as a powerful tool to improve your musicianship in a variety of ways.

What’s Included

  • Music Foundations Level 1: Pads & Rhythmic Theory
  • Music Foundations Level 2: Keys & Melodic Theory
  • Music Foundations Level 3: Critical Listening

Additional Information

Visit the Music Foundations course page for detailed information on this program here.

If you have questions, please call 877.DUBSPOT or send us a message.

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